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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


JANSE VAN RENSBURG, Antiünette  y  DREYER, Wim. Religion and law: Revisiting Hervormde Kerk Resolution 41 (2016) on homosexuality. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.1, pp.211-228. ISSN 2224-7912.

In 2016, the General Assembly of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika (Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa, or NHKA) passed a resolution on homosexuality. In one section, Resolution 42 (2016) it is claimed that "Jesus Christ, through the Spirit, helps people to live in the presence of God as complete human beings, including their sexuality. This is also true of people with a homosexual orientation. Therefore, the Church believes that all Christians, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are members of the body of Christ with full participation in the sacraments. This is an expression of the unity of the Church." Unlike the extreme discomfort with similar resolutions expressed within and by other churches, the resolution elicited relatively little resistance from church members in the NHK, and to date there has been no legal consequences with respect to the decision. In this article we will discuss Resolution 41 (2016) in terms of the governing principles of reformed church polity, with some remarks on its legal implications. In the presbyterial-synodal (reformed) system of church government, there are guiding principles which must be considered when a synod reflects on a particular matter. First and foremost, the principle that Christ governs the church through his Word and Spirit determines all aspects of church governance. The contents of resolutions are determined byfive principles (in order of importance), i.e. the Word of God, confessions and creeds, church order, previous resolutions of assemblies, and customs or practices of the church. Resolution 41 (2016) will be assessed with reference to each of the above principles. Each of these guiding principles is discussed by engaging in dialogue with Resolution 41 (2016), to determine how and if it conforms to the guiding principles of reformed church polity. The discussion also includes some remarks on church polity and church governance as an ius sui generis, which is different from civil law. The unique character of church polity is explained in terms of the presbyterial-synodal form of church governance, typical of reformed churches all over the world. In the reformed tradition, the Word of God entertains a central position as the authority and norm for Christian doctrine and life (sola Scriptura). It is pointed out that the Word of God as guiding principle is neither self-evident nor unproblematic, due to different views ofwhat constitutes the Word of God as well as diverse hermeneutic approaches to the Bible text. It is also argued that a sixth guiding principle should be considered, i.e. administrative justice. Although ecclesiastical law is an ius sui generis, it does not exclude the general principles of justice, fairness, equity, etcetera. Quite the opposite. It is the church's Christian duty and responsibility to ensure that all decisions are taken in a spirit of fairness, with consideration of due process. The integrity of the ecclesiastical process and procedure should be of the highest ethical standard. In such an approach, synod resolutions, while heeding the Word of God, simultaneously take into consideration the Bill of Human Rights and the Constitution of South Africa. Resolution 41 (2016) represents something of a "third way" in terms of ecclesiastical decisions on homosexuality, avoiding hard or extreme points ofview. This reconciliatory nature of the resolution is probably the reason why it was met with little opposition from church members. Even the media and members of the public responded positively to the resolution.

Palabras clave : Hervormde Kerk; church polity; assemblies; resolutions; decision making; homosexuality; Holy Scripture; confessions; tradition; procedures; competence; administrative justice; fairness.

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